Fishing rights in British waters continued to hold talks in Brussels on a future Brexit trade deal on Sunday as officials weighed up whether another phone call between Boris Johnson and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen could help break the deadlock.
British officials pushed for the EU’s fishing offer and the level playing field of fair competition remained “unacceptable”, accusing member states – a clear reference to France – of not showing enough “flexibility” to reach a deal on the line.
However, France has insisted that it should not be pressured into a substandard deal, with French President Emmanuel Macron demanding firm guarantees of continued access to British waters for his country’s fishing boats.
A British government official said Saturday: “Talks are going on overnight, but as it stands, the EU’s offer on the table remains unacceptable.
“The Prime Minister will leave no stone unturned in this process, but he is absolutely clear: any agreement must be fair and respect the fundamental position that the UK will be a sovereign nation in three weeks’ time.”
British officials said on Saturday that the prime minister was expected to speak to Ms von der Leyen on Sunday “as planned” to take stock of the latest fisheries talks and the level playing field to ensure fair competition after Brexit.
But EU officials said Sunday morning that a call had not yet been confirmed, and Mr Johnson’s allies said no such talk was planned “at this point”.
In terms of fair competition, the unresolved issues mainly concern restrictions on government subsidies to businesses. One person briefed on the talks said the point was “still difficult but not insurmountable”.
Discussions on fish are seen as more problematic, as both sides are still far from each other in terms of the fishing rights that EU boats should have in UK waters and the length of a transition period designed to take the blow to the EU fleet. to catch.
“The finish line is visible,” said a person involved in the talks on Saturday. “But nobody wants to cross it.”
There is little time left for the European Parliament’s deadline of midnight on Sunday to reach an agreement on future relations if ratified this year. Some UK officials are now saying they want the matter to be resolved somehow before Christmas.
Such a timetable would mean that MPs and MEPs would be asked to scrutinize and approve each deal in the few days between Christmas and the end of the post-Brexit transition period on December 31.
That has alarmed some conservative Eurosceptic MPs who fear they will be persuaded to approve a deal on the future UK-EU relationship, with hardly any scope for investigation.
“If a deal falls apart on inspection, don’t agree,” Steve Baker, former Brexit minister, said on Twitter.
“The idea that MPs could be persuaded to vote for a bad deal in the hope that they would then have to back it up afterwards is poisonous: it would be despicable to do it. So I wouldn’t expect the government to try. ”
Meanwhile, Brussels has been accused of accepting “brutal and unprecedented cuts” to EU fishing rights after submitting an improved offer to the UK.
The European Fisheries Alliance, a group representing fleets from coastal states such as Belgium, France and the Netherlands, warned on Saturday: “The form of a deal, such as [it] the current stands would mean a huge blow to the European fishing industry. ”
“Despite repeated promises, we are in the grip of river sales,” says Gerard van Balsfoort, the chairman of the organization.
An earlier version of this story stated that a phone call between Ursula von der Leyen and Boris Johnson was expected on Sunday. This is not the case.